No two parents are alike, so it probably comes as no surprise that there are a ton of different parenting styles. Not sure what yours is yet? Don’t worry. Some people enter parenthood knowing exactly how they’ll raise their children. But sometimes a parenting style evolves on its own.
Often, parenting styles are placed into four main categories:
Among the four, uninvolved parenting is the newest to be categorized — but that doesn’t mean it’s new. It’s an interesting style because it involves a lot less hand-holding compared to other parenting styles.
Uninvolved parenting — also called neglectful parenting, which obviously carries more negative connotations — is a style of parenting where parents don’t respond to their child’s needs or desires beyond the basics of food, clothing, and shelter.
These children receive little guidance, discipline, and nurturing from their parents. And oftentimes kids are left to raise themselves and make decisions — big and small — on their own.
It’s a controversial parenting style, and because of this, it’s also easy to pass judgment on these parents. But whether you’re an uninvolved parent or you know someone who is, it’s important to remember that this parenting style isn’t always intentional.
The reasons why some parents end up raising their kids this way varies — more on this later. For now, let’s take a look at some of the characteristics of uninvolved parenting and explore how this type of parenting can affect children in the long run.
Many parents can identify with being stressed, overworked, and tired. You know what we mean: when things get out of control, you might brush off your child for a few minutes of quiet and solitude.
As guilty as you might feel afterwards, these moments aren’t characteristic of uninvolved parenting. Uninvolved parenting isn’t just a moment of preoccupation with one’s self. Rather, it’s an ongoing pattern of emotional distance between parent and child.
Signs of an uninvolved parent include the following:
1. Focus on your own problems and desires
Whether it’s work, a social life apart from the kids, or other interests or problems, uninvolved parents are preoccupied with their own affairs — so much so that they’re unresponsive to the needs of their children, and make little time for them.
Everything else comes before the kids. And in some instances, parents might outright neglect or reject their children.
Again, this isn’t always a matter of choosing a night at the club over family game night. Sometimes, there are issues at play that seem outside of a parent’s control.
2. Lack of an emotional attachment
An emotional connection between parent and child comes naturally for many people. But in the case of uninvolved parenting, this bond isn’t instinctual or automatic. The parent feels a disconnect, which severely limits the amount of affection and nurturing they extend to their child.
3. Lack of interest in child’s activities
Because of a lack of affection, uninvolved parents aren’t interested in their child’s school work, activities, or events. They might skip their sports games or fail to show up for PTA meetings.
4. No set rules or expectations for behavior
Uninvolved parents typically lack a discipline style. So unless a child’s behavior affects them, these parents don’t usually offer any type of correction. They allow the child to act how they want. And these parents don’t get upset when their child performs poorly in school or with other activities.
Children require love, attention, and encouragement to thrive. So it’s no surprise that uninvolved parenting can have a negative effect on a child.
It’s true that kids with uninvolved parents do tend to learn self-reliance and how to take care of their basic needs at an early age. Still, the drawbacks of this parenting style outweigh the good.
One major disadvantage of uninvolved parenting is that these children don’t develop an emotional connection with their uninvolved parent. A lack of affection and attention at a young age can lead to low self-esteem or emotional neediness in other relationships.
Having an uninvolved parent may even affect a child’s social skills. Noted in background information for this small 2017 study, some children of uninvolved parents may have difficulties with social interactions outside the home because uninvolved parents rarely communicate or engage their children.
The study itself, done in Ghana, Africa, was focused on academic performances of 317 students in homes with varying parenting styles. It concluded that students in authoritarian homes perform better academically than children of other parenting styles.
Of note, this small study may not be broadly applicable, as parenting styles in different cultures may lead to different outcomes. Still, children of neglectful parents do have more challenges regardless of where they are.
Children of uninvolved parents may also lack coping skills. In a 2007 study, researchers evaluated how different parenting styles affected homesickness in 670 first-year college students between the ages of 16 and 25.
The study found at those raised by authoritative and permissive parents experienced more homesickness than those raised by authoritarian and uninvolved parents. But while the two former groups felt more homesickness, they didn’t express it as much because they had stronger coping skills.
Yet, the group raised by authoritarian and uninvolved parents who felt less homesickness had a harder time coping with their feelings. This suggests that being raised in a loving and nurturing environment (or not) affects how young people adjust to life away from home.
When a child grows up with an emotional detachment from their parent, they may repeat this parenting style with their own kids. And as a result, they may have the same poor relationship with their own children.
Uninvolved parenting comes in many forms, depending on the age of a child.
Take an infant, for example. While some parents take every opportunity to nurture and offer affection, an uninvolved parent may feel disengaged or detached from their baby.
They may have no interest in holding, feeding, or playing with the baby. And when given the opportunity, they might give the baby to their partner or a grandparent.
Just to be clear, feeling initial detachment can be a short-term sign of postpartum depression rather than a philosophical, life-long parenting choice or style. That’s why it’s important to see your health care provider for treatment if you have postpartum depression.
But in the absence of this condition, there are other factors at play. For example, a parent may feel disconnected if they didn’t have a bond with their own parents.
In the case of a young child, an uninvolved parent may show little interest in artwork their young child creates, or they may ignore the child as they excitably talk about their day.
They may also fail to create reasonable limits such as bedtimes. This is in contrast with an authoritative parent, who listens to their child and encourages open communication, but also sets limits when appropriate.
With an older child, an uninvolved parent may not impose any consequences, or even react or care, if the child skips school or brings home a bad report card. This is different from an authoritarian parent, who is strict and will punish a child that steps out of line.
It’s important to note, again, that uninvolved parenting isn’t usually a conscious choice. It comes about for different reasons. It can happen when a parent becomes too involved with work and finds little time or energy to focus on their child. This can cause a disconnect that strains their relationship, where they become alienated from one another.
Sometimes, though, this style develops when a person has been raised by neglectful parents themselves, or when a parent deals with mental health issues that prevent forming any type of emotional attachment. If so, this parent may also have difficulty bonding with their spouse and others.
Regardless of the underlying reasons, it is possible to change a parenting style if you notice characteristics of uninvolved parenting in yourself.
It might help to seek counseling to deal with any mental health problems, past abuse, or other issues that prevent establishing an emotional bond with your child. This isn’t something that will happen overnight, so be patient.
If you’re interested in developing that bond with your child, the desire itself is a great first step. Talk to your healthcare provider about what you can do to add healthy nurturing to your family dynamic, and know that you’re on your way to being the parent your child needs.